In many countries, tea is much more than just a morning pick-me-up. It’s a lifestyle, one that is often deeply connected with the culture and the people. The way different cultures sample and enjoy tea is an intrinsic part of their cultural heritage, and sharing a cup of tea as per the local customs is often a sign of great hospitality. Discover the different traditions around this hot beverage.
The Famous Chinese Tea Culture
Famously, tea has its origins in China, and it therefore comes as no surprise that the Chinese tea culture is among the most famous in the world. While tea was initially only cultivated and drunk very sparingly as an herbal medicine, it soon started to become popular for its calming effects. The Chinese tea ceremony is a blend of different philosophies: Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. It is often seen as part of one’s search for peace and harmony.
One of the most famous tea ceremonies in China is the Gongfu tea ceremony. Its name — Gongfu cha — translates into “making tea with skill” and stands for the ceremonial preparation of tea and serving it to guests as a sign of respect.
Great Britain — The British and Their Afternoon Tea
It is no secret that the British love a nice cup of piping hot tea, and an Afternoon Tea is one of the country’s most quintessential traditions. It consists of delicate finger sandwiches, followed by scones with jam and cream, then finally small cakes. The tea is drunk with the above, usually as an unflavoured black tea with milk. In its history, Afternoon tea has gone from a Royal pastime to become a cornerstone to British Culture, and is now enjoyed by all and sundry.
Tea has been very popular in Britain since its introduction, and many people have several cups a day. Workers have one, two or more tea-breaks a day. People drink tea to warm up in winter, to cool down in summer, to revive energy levels and to calm down. For many in the UK, tea is the beverage for any emotional situation.
India — It’s All about Chai
Tea is incredibly popular in India and almost 70% of the tea produced in the country is consumed by its own people. India cultivates huge amounts of black tea, mostly in the fertile Assam Valley as well as the bounteous slopes of Darjeeling and the Nilgiris, with McLeod Russel being the single largest producer of Black tea in India, if not the world. The most popular variant of the myriad recipes enjoyed among Indians is undoubtedly Chai. It is a mix of different spices steeped into what is usually black tea, though it is also often had with a splash of milk. The spices include cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves, and black pepper. Chai is an important part of Indian tea culture and whenever guests come over, chai will be served. The tea leaves are brewed first with spices and then again with milk and sugar.
Chai wallahs sell the Indian’s national drink at every street corner of the country, and is not only a place to buy chai tea but also a place for socializing, discussion, and debate.
The Way of Tea in Japan
The Japanese tea ceremony chanoyu (“hot water for tea”) is a very important cultural, ritual and activity around the preparation and presentation of matcha — a powdered green tea. It is much more than just a tea party — it’s also about aesthetics and connecting with the guests on a spiritual level. The Japanese tea ceremony, also often referred to as “way of tea”, is very complex with many utensils involved and an incredibly specific vocabulary.
It is not uncommon for a host to spend weeks going over every detail to ensure the ceremony will be perfect. It is held in traditional tea rooms or private homes, and a formal tea ceremony lasts for up to four hours.
Tea is a drink with a rich tapestry of history, and it is remarkable how the same drink is perceived and consumed so very differently across various cultures around the world. Sometimes, all it takes to go on a journey to a foreign land is to try its flavours.